Last year I had the privilege of going to Colombia. Going around the city of Cartagena, it’s one of those places that’s very Catholic – and so much of the city centers around their patron Saint, Peter Claver – whose Feast we would normally celebrate tomorrow/today.
Peter was a Jesuit priest in the early 17th century. He started as a missionary there, and soon realized the people whom he was really was called to minister to – the slaves. Cartagena was a key port in the African slave trade. Over the course of his 40 years there, he converted and Baptized over 300,000 slaves.
In the center of Cartagena is the Church that bears his name. And there underneath the resplendent high altar in a glass sarcophagus is the body of Peter Claver. I weaseled my way up there through a roped off area – the #1 rule of being able to get into places you aren’t supposed to be is to just look like you belong there, it usually works. I knelt there face to face with him and I prayed.
I didn’t pray that I would Baptize 300,000 people – I like my Barcalounger too much for that – but I remember praying for something I don’t do well enough, that I would have the Grace and the strength to be open – to serve the needs of anyone and everyone whom the Lord would place in my midst, especially those who are otherwise neglected or unwanted or an inconvenience to me. I stayed there in silence for a few moments before the Sacristan came out and yelled at me in Spanish and hurried me away. But it was really a moment I will treasure.
In the Gospel today, Jesus reached out to a man - he spit on him, put his fingers in his ears and said “Ephphatha” Be opened. My brothers and sisters, if we truly wish to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we need Him to do the same to us. To open us up truly to the power and the call of His Word. (Do EP V3?)
His Word that calls us to selfless service. His Word that calls us to be faithful to His commandments; His Word that calls us to love and forgive and to be merciful with one another – to everyone around us. To move us past any worldly ideology that prevents us from seeing the dignity of others. To remove from our eyes the blinders that ignore suffering in our midst. To open our ears to hear the cry of anyone in need – especially the hungry, the poor, the stranger. Whoever is unwanted, whoever is unloved.
Mother Teresa used to say ‘find your own Calcutta’ find your own place right where you are – to sow love where there is hate, pardon where there is injury, hope where there is despair, joy where there is sadness, consolation where healing is so desperately needed. To be the hands and heart of Jesus to those around us in the course of our everyday lives. That is our path to sainthood.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus desperately wants us to be open to what he puts in front of us everyday…and what is that? Let’s pray for the grace to be open, and find out. God help us all. +